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Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: Welcome to Christ’s Kingdom–Come, I’ll Show You Around
The crux of Paul’s appeal to the Colossians is the cross of Jesus Christ: his death, resurrection, and sovereignty over all things created, by the design and will of God the Father. God transferred the Colossians from death to life, from the dominion of darkness to the Kingdom of the Son of his love. In Christ, the Colossians died to their old body of flesh and were made alive in the new body of Christ. Their belief in Christ has great repercussions that affect their entire lives and beings.
The structure of Paul’s Letter to the Colossians has always been difficult for me to grasp. His Greek sentences are long; the paragraphs are long; his transitions are brief and often hard to spot. Topic sentences don’t stand out. Concepts seem densely packed and alternate back and forth. Most of the first two chapters read like a summary of Christian theology, rather than a letter. To me it seems that Paul writes in one long string, rather than following a cohesive 3-point outline based on clear organizational blocks. The good news is that I think I’m finally starting to get it, and I want to share my thoughts with others who may be struggling as I have been (2). I’ve come to see Paul’s letter as a piece of woven fabric in which certain themes, like colors, appear, then disappear, then reappear. This way of structuring Paul’s letter helps me recall its content–I’m not saying it will work for everyone.
The total picture that appears is a dramatic snapshot of God’s kingdom, the kingdom of the Son of his love (1:13). God the Father is the fabric’s foundation and backdrop. The Son stands in bold relief as the Sovereign King over all. His cross, the battle scene where his victory was won, stands central to the whole. The Colossians are dispersed throughout the tapestry as the primary fill color, while Paul is a single, strong strand that occasionally appears to bind the whole together. The dark overtones of dangerous enemies give swirls of vignette to all the borders.
Nevertheless, Paul’s tapestry is a letter. A suitable subtitle might be, “Welcome to Christ’s Kingdom! Here’s what you need to know.”
A first step in understanding Paul’s letter is to begin with the author. Who is Paul? Why is he writing? The important thing is how Paul sees himself. The following verses explain that.
Romans 1:1 Paul, a servant [slave, bondman] of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
Romans 15:15b … the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister [administrator; priest] of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Colossians 1:1 Paul, an apostle [a messenger delegated by the Lord, one who had personally seen and spoken with Jesus Christ] of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To summarize, Paul sees himself as God’s specially chosen servant, minister, and apostle to the Gentiles, among whom are the Colossians to whom he is writing. In his letter to the Colossians, he specifically refers to himself as an apostle.
Second, we need to understand how Paul views the followers of Christ. In the epistles, or letters, which he writes, he most often refers to the church in one of three ways.
Ephesians 5:27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
1 Timothy 3:15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household [a family related by blood] of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
Summarizing, Paul uses various terms to reference the followers of Christ. Often he refers to the group of believers in their entirety as Christ’s church, his body, or the household of God. In Colossians, Paul calls his listeners and readers the church, the body of Christ.
Finally, where does Paul consider that the body of Christ, the church, lives? Well, readers of this may say, some live in Colossae, some in Rome, some in Philippi, etc. And it is true that the household of God, Christ’s family, his church, live in all these places and more. But spiritually, Paul places believers in the kingdom of God and of Christ, the Son of God’s love (3).
1 Thessalonians 2:12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
Colossians 1:13 He has delivered us from the domain [jurisdiction, realm, kingdom] of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
The above is sufficient background for the reader to understand why I give Paul’s Letter to the Colossians the subtitle, “Welcome to Christ’s Kingdom–Come, I’ll Show You Around.” As an apostle directly contacted in person and commissioned by Jesus (Acts 9:3-7), Paul sees himself as chief household administrator to God’s family among the Gentiles, those to whom Jesus specifically sent him (Acts 9:15). As such, he is the servant who meets and welcomes the new believers from Colossae at the (spiritual) gate of Christ’s kingdom and proceeds to give them the grand tour, telling them everything they need to know in order to live their new kingdom lives. Colossians is a welcome letter of orientation into the kingdom of God’s Son. Therefore, the theme verse is Colossians 1:13–
Colossians 1:13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, (New Living Translation)
“Welcome!” Paul says, “Now that you’re here, this is what you need to know.”
Outline of Colossians/English Version
I. Address (1:1-2)
II. Inhabitants of the Kingdom
A. Paul the Greeter (1:3-12)
B. God the Father (1:13-14)
C. The Son of His Love (1:15-20)
D. The Colossians in Relationship with God, Father and Son
E. Paul as God’s Chief Steward to the Gentiles
III. Do’s and Don’ts of Kingdom Living
IV. Paul’s Team (4:7-14)
V. Final Instructions (4:15-17) and Sign-off (4:18)
Chapter 1 Overview
(Verses 1-12a) In Chapter 1, Paul meets the Colossians just inside the gates of the kingdom, welcoming them with open arms, telling them how glad he and his friends are that they have arrived. They are not completely unknown to him, although he has never met them. Epaphras, his dear friend and fellow worker, has given them a very good report. Paul continues his greeting by conveying with thoughtful words how he has been praying for the Colossians, that they will grow in wisdom, knowledge, good works, strength and endurance, love, joy, and thankfulness in their hearts (1).
(Verses 12b-20) Paul wants the Colossians to know everything about the Father by whose grace they are here. He turns to the Son, sparing no words of exuberant praise for this magnificent being, the God-man to whom the Father has given the keys and authority of everything in all creation, in heaven and on earth. The Son is worthy and able to manage all this, ever so willing to glorify his Father in heaven.
(Verses 21-23) Paul then addresses the Colossians themselves, explaining to them who they are in God’s eyes–formerly enemies, now friends. There is one condition: they must continue in the faith of the gospel which they heard and gladly received. Faith in the gospel message of Christ is why they are in the kingdom.
(Verses 24-29) Finally, Paul explains himself, his identity, why he is there to meet and welcome them. Paul is God’s specially chosen minister to the Gentiles, for whom he suffers. His assignment is to bring to light the mystery long hidden for ages and generations. This formerly unknown word of God is that Christ now dwells among the Gentiles, sharing with them all the glory that is his. Paul struggles with every ounce of the powerful energy God has placed in him to exhort everyone everywhere concerning the fullness of God’s gift expressed in the glory of Christ. His goal is to bring them all mature and whole in Christ into God’s presence.
Chapter 2 Overview
Paul begins Chapter 2 (1) with a recap (verses 1-7) of the content of Chapter 1, adding the additional information about Laodicea. Verse 7 functions a a transitional glide between the who’s who portion of the letter presented in Chapter 1 and the prescriptive admonitions to the Colossians. The enemies of the kingdom are first mentioned in verse 4 (which was unspoken but hinted in Chapter 1) and given greater detail in verses 8 and 16. While the enemies are not inhabitants of the kingdom, they hover like insects around the cultivated plants of a garden or grow like weeds among the fruitful plants themselves. Paul gives three warnings against false teachers in Chapter 2. These are in the verses just mentioned: 4, 8, and 16. Paul provides the Colossians their shield of protection by reemphasizing to them the splendor and sovereignty of Christ the King. He emphasizes the death, burial, resurrections, and triumph of the King over all enemies. The Colossians are to receive their orders from Christ alone, because everything he achieved in death, burial, resurrection, and triumph, they also achieved in Him by (spiritual) circumcision, baptism, and faith. The Colossians are free from all religious traditions regarding physical substances because they spiritually died to these and were raised with Christ.
Chapter 3 Overview
Paul builds upon the foundation laid in Chapter 2 with his opening statement in verse 1. He says in effect, Since you have been raised with Christ, now act like it. He reminds them of their strong position in Christ in verses 3 and 4, 10 through 11, and 12. The first portion of the chapter contains the don’ts and do’s of their personal lives, followed by their lives with one another. The second portion of the chapter deals with specific household relationships, including family, slaves, and masters. This section extends to the opening of Chapter 4 and includes a petition by Paul for their prayers for him and his gospel message. Finally, in verses 4:5-6, Paul gives orders on how they should conduct themselves toward those not in the church.
Chapter 4 Overview
Chapter 4, as previously mentioned, continues without interruption what Paul began in Chapter 3. After the conclusion of the prescriptive material, Paul begins to close his letter by introducing the rest of his team. He commends them specifically by name and mentions details about them that relate to the Colossians. Finally, Paul signs off his letter in a single verse.
Details of the Letter
I. Address (1:1-2a)
Just a few, short comments about the address of Paul’s Letter to the Colossians.
First, why does Paul introduce himself as an apostle only, rather than also including his role as servant? I believe he’s looking ahead to the portion of the tour in which he deals with enemies of the kingdom, the false teachers. By naming himself solely as, “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,” he immediately asserts his authority.
Second, Paul includes Timothy as part of the welcoming committee. Paul usually doesn’t work alone. He most often has other Christians with him. By including Timothy in his greeting, Paul shows the importance of other Christians to himself, to his ministry, and to the body of Christ.
Third, “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ,” establishes the Colossians as believers. Therefore, the purpose of the letter is not to evangelize the unsaved.
II. Inhabitants of the Kingdom (1:2b-2:23)
A. Paul the Greeter: His Welcome, “We’ve been praying for you!” and Overview of the Letter’s Cast of Characters (1:3-12)
This first section is an overview of the entire letter. The inhabitants of the kingdom primarily presented are: 1) the Colossians, 2) Paul, 3) God the Father, 4) God the Son, and 5) Epaphras, one of the team. In this section of the letter, Paul, as chief administrator/servant of the Gentile portion of Christ’s kingdom, is eager to lay a foundation that truthfully examines the presence of the Colossians within this kingdom. What he says here is crucial for what he will say later. The two sections can be paraphrased, “Welcome! We’re glad you’re here. You’re off to a good start. Now let me explain how you got here and the significance of your being here.”
Paul opens his greeting with the welcoming words, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father.” This is Paul’s joyful benediction, his happy pronouncement of blessing. Grace is God’s pleasure freely bestowed upon his children. Peace is God’s newly declared treaty with his former enemies, who are now sons (and daughters), all because of what God’s own Son did on the cross. Lastly, because of this same work on the cross, God is now the Father of all believers. “Father” is a term that was rarely used of God in the Old Testament, even as regards his own people. Christ changed that. I cannot hear Paul naming God as “Father” without also hearing his heart singing with joy. Further, by saying “our” Father, Paul, who is himself Jewish, establishes the unity of the body of Christ, which now includes both Jews and Gentiles living together in God’s grace and peace.
Paul continues welcoming the Colossians. His letter occurs at some point in time after they entered through the spiritual gate, or door, of the kingdom, yet while they may still be considered newcomers. A simple paraphrase of this section might be, “Welcome! We’ve been praying for you.” Paul divides his prayer for the new believers into two distinct portions: thanksgiving (verses 3-8) and supplication (verses 9-12).
1. Thanksgiving (3-8)–Subtitle: Let me explain to you the significance of your “ticket in.”
Paul relates to the Colossians that he and others have been thanking God for their presence in Christ’s kingdom. Within the thanksgiving portion, Paul, always the teacher, clarifies for them how it is they arrived inside Christ’s kingdom (vv 5-6). He acknowledges that their ticket in, so to speak, is on account of their faith in Christ and love for all the saints (vs 4). The first is an inward action, and the second an outward. These developed because they have hope in the promise of the eternal salvation (vs 5; see also vs 23) being stored up and protected for them in the heavens. This hope is part of the truthful gospel message being preached in all the world. It grows and bears fruit for everyone, just as it does among themselves. In other words, welcome to the crowd. Their riches of hope are based on the grace of God (vs 6). Implied in Paul’s words are the facts that the Colossians entered the kingdom just as everyone else did–they are no more special than anyone else, nor are they less. Also, there’s only one way in for everyone–genuine faith in Christ, who is their hope of eternal inheritance (2:27), as spoken in the gospel message of truth. Their hope bears the fruit of love for all the saints, which is the external evidence of the genuineness of their faith (4). In the closing verse of the thanksgiving portion, he emphasizes again their love (vs 8).
Summary: In Paul’s thanksgiving for the Colossians, he lays the groundwork for his later warnings concerning false teachers. He draws attention to the only truthful things of great importance to their wellbeing: their hope of eternal inheritance solely through the grace of God in Jesus Christ and their faith and love for all the saints. Additionally, he spends two verses (7-8) extolling Epaphras and verifying with his seal of apostolic approval the truthful teachings of God’s grace that this fellow-servant of Paul had given them. This, also, is ballast against the false teachers.
2. Supplication (9-12)
Paul continues greeting the Colossians, further welcoming them into the kingdom by informing them of the second way in which he has already been praying for them since the time he first heard from their mutual friend Epaphras of their faith and love. He prays that they “may be filled with the knowledge of his will.” This knowledge of God’s will comes through “all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” The purpose of the knowledge is so that they may “lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.” Paul communicates in this passage his prayers for their relationship with God–Father and Son (5). He has already indicated that there is no kingdom without Father and Son. The Colossians came into the kingdom by God and Christ, and now that they are here, Paul wants them to please Him in everything. They will do this by “bearing fruit in every good work” and continuously increasing “in the full knowledge of God” (vs 10).
In order for them to accomplish this, Paul tells them that he prays that they “may be strengthened with all power” (δύναμις). The purpose of this power, according to the passage, is so that they might endure and patiently, joyfully prevail in their lifelong walk of faith in Christ. Paul is not speaking here of their using God’s power to perform healing wonders and other miracles. He doesn’t mention those. Rather, he prays for the patient endurance of their faith throughout all their suffering, all the way to the end of their lives. They will do this by the might of God’s glory. Paul also wants the Colossians to be giving thanks to the Father. He reminds them that it is the Father who qualified them to enter and live in Christ’s kingdom and to receive their portion of the inheritance waiting for all the saints. In Paul’s eyes, the Colossians are included among the “saints in light” (vs 12). That is a great cause to rejoice.
Verse 12 is a transition. It straddles two sections in this outline. Paul had been informing the Colossians that their presence in the kingdom is through their relationship with God the Father and Christ the Son. He wants that relationship to grow by means of an increase in their understanding of the full knowledge of God’s will. This knowledge will lead to fruitful obedience. He has reminded them who to thank and why. Now, with verse 12, he begins to move his focus away from the Colossians and solely onto God the Father and then Christ. He brings the Colossians’ relationship with God back into focus in verse 21.
B. God the Father (1:12-14)
“The Father” is the one who qualified the Colossians to share the inheritance of the saints in light (12). They owe him their worship, thanksgiving, and allegiance for such an unfathomably, graciously, awesome gift (vs 12 and picking up the prayer of supplication from the previous section.)
In verse 13 Paul presents God the Father as the Power and Authority who undergirds and endorses his Son. It is the Father who rescued the Colossians, Paul, and all the saints from the power, or authority, of darkness and transferred them into the kingdom of the Son of his love (see footnote 2).
Grammatical Transition from the Father to the Son: Paul does not include a transition, but effortlessly glides into his presentation of the Son by means of a mere prepositional phrase, “in whom,” which functions as a relative clause (vs 14) (6). Verse 14 is the transition from the Father to the Son. As such, it belongs to both sections, God the Father and God the Son.
C. The Son of His Love (1:14-20)
1. In the Son we (Paul speaks of himself, the Colossians, and all the saints) have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Implied is that no one can willingly, knowingly bypass the Son thinking to reach the Father without him. The Son is essential to salvation (1:14).
2. Verse 15 states directly what is contained in the phrase in vs 13, “the Son of his love.” The Son is the image of the invisible God, pre-eminent and above all creation. I believe this phrase implies that the Godhead knew from all eternity past that there would be a physical creation of which Christ would be the Sovereign manifestation of the one divinity.
3. The Son created all things:
- in heaven
- on earth
–all things both through him and for him were created (vs 16).
4. But the Son himself is excluded from the “all things” created, because he is before all things. He holds it all together. (vs17)
5. Paul calls the church, “the body.” The Son is the head of the body. In today’s language, he is the command center, the source of the body’s direction, the one to whom the body reports in all things (18).
6. As the fully-human (incarnated), fully-divine being, he is the first ever to resurrect from the dead. He is the beginning of the resurrection for all creation and for humans in particular. The purpose for this is that the Son will be pre-eminent, supreme, in all things (vs 18).
7. All the above points are true of the Son because all the fullness of God is pleasantly, agreeably, suitably, and comfortably situated in him. This is by choice of the triune God (vs 19).
8. Through the Son of his love, God will reconcile, or reconnect, all things (the whole creation in heaven and on earth and specifically humanity) to himself. He will do this by means of the blood of the Son’s cross.
Significance of this passage:
1. The will and actions of the Father are inseparable from the will and actions of the Son.
2. God–the triune deity–is invisible, but as regards the entire created universe, the Son alone makes him wholly visible (see also John 1:18).
3. Although Paul has not yet mentioned the false teachers, in this passage he uses the rhetorical equivalent of a nuclear bomb to demolish their arguments concerning angels and fabricated Gnostic spiritual intermediaries.
D. The Colossians in Relationship with God, Father and Son (1:23a)
“And you…” (the opening words of 1:21), is the phrase Paul uses to reintroduce the Colossians in their relationship to the Son of God’s love, whom he introduces as such in verse 13.
A brief synopsis of verses 1:12 through 21 would be:
“12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us [or you] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He [the Father] has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of [the Son of his love], 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (RSV). Now let me tell you about this Son…(see verses 15-20) “21 And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him,” (RSV).
Verses 21 and 22 restate in somewhat different words verses 12-14. The high Christological passage of verses 15-20 is structurally a parenthesis, or a sidebar. In content and significance, however, it is equivalent to a rhetorical nuclear bomb, as already stated above.
I will paraphrase the synopsis just given.
Verses 12-14: Give thanks to the Father. He cleaned you up and got you ready to share in the eternal inheritance with all his children. He rescued you from the kingdom of darkness and transferred you to the kingdom of the Son of his love. Let’s step aside for a minute and consider just how great this Son is…(Paul’s sidebar about the Son–verses 15-20)…Verse 21: Now I’ll repeat what I said before this sidebar about the Son–You were in the jurisdiction of darkness, cut-off from the Father and hostile in your minds, doing the evil deeds that belong to the kingdom of darkness, when he–the incarnated Son–died on the cross in order to get you cleaned up and ready to receive your new orders from himself, God’s highly favored King, and to present you, fully righteous, to God.
Notice that Paul has passed the baton of action from the Father in verses 12-13 to the Son in verses 21-22. This is because, as he presents in his sidebar, the Son and the Father are inseparable. We, in the visible world of creation and especially as human beings, relate to the Son, and only through him, to the Father. The Father’s purpose for us is fully realized in the Son.
Verse 23: Paul gives a caveat to the Colossians concerning their new status within the kingdom of the Son of God’s love. They must “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel,” which they heard. This is the same gospel, Paul repeats from verse 6, “which has been preached to every creature under heaven,…” And so he has come full circle, leaving off where he began with the universality of the gospel they themselves received.
Transition: Paul closes the section concerning the relationship between the Colossians and the Son by introducing himself as one who became a minister of the gospel, “which has been preached to every creature under heaven.” This makes the last point of verse 23 transitional between the section whose focus is the Colossians in relationship to the Son and the section in which Paul in his ministry to the Gentiles is the focus.
Significance of this passage: The relationship to Father and Son that Paul describes in this section he repeats again and again as he develops his arguments against the false teachers in Chapter 2 and the behaviors of kingdom living he prescribes for the Colossians in Chapter 3 and the beginning of Chapter 4. Everything Paul has to say to the Colossians has their death, burial, resurrection, and victory in Christ as the new foundation of their lives. Just as the cross was essential to Christ, as co-partakers with him in it, so the cross is essential to the Colossians. (The teacher in me wants to add that the cross is also essential to all of us as Christians.)
E. Paul as God’s Chief Steward to the Gentiles
Paul’s presence permeates the entire letter, sometime in the foreground and most often in the background. Occasionally he asserts himself as the active character. It is because of his stewardship to the Gentiles that Paul writes the letter. As steward, Paul has the responsibility of being the chief servant of Christ for the Gentiles, answerable to him as Lord. It is because of Paul’s stewardship that he prescribes the do’s and don’ts which form the bulk of chapters two and three. However, for purposes of coherent organization, I have put these “rules of kingdom living” in a separate section, which is Item IV in the outline.
1. Paul’s credentials and dedication (1:23b-29)
“…the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”
Paul communicates in this section–
a. his suffering, afflictions, and toil (1:24 twice and 1:29)
b. his afflictions are Christ’s afflictions (1:24)
c. the church is Christ’s body (1:24)
d. Paul sees himself as a divinely appointed steward and minister to the church, and his duty is to make fully known the word of God (1:25)
e. God had a purpose hidden for ages and generations which is now disclosed to his people (1:26)
f. God has now made known to the church (his saints) how “great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory” (RSV) of his previously hidden purpose. This is Christ among the Gentiles, the hope of glory (1:27)
g. Paul’s gospel ministry is to every man, or every person (πάντα ἄνθρωπον) (1:28)
h. Paul labors, struggling, with the powerful energy of God in him (1:29). This “power” is the same power Paul prayed for the Colossians in 1:11. Here again in this verse, God’s powerful energy, presence, operating within Paul is not so that Paul can perform miracles, but that he might fully proclaim Christ to every person in order to present them to him in maturity (7).
2. Paul’s goals for the Colossians
a. stated as his prayers for the Colossians (1:3-12, see above Section 2A “Paul the Greeter”)
b. stated as his struggles on behalf of the Colossians (1:23b-4:6, and see this section just above in segment 2#1, “Paul the Chief Steward”)
c. stated as behaviors he prescribes for the Colossians (2:6-4:6, see Section III below, “Do’s and Don’ts of Kingdom Living”)
III. Do’s and Don’ts of Kingdom Living (2:6-4:6)
A. Paul’s Recap of What He Has Said So Far
Paul in verses 2:1-7 summarizes the entire first chapter. These three verses, especially verse 1, are transitional between Paul’s more universal ministry to all Gentiles and his more specific ministry to the Gentiles of Colossae and Laodicea.
2:1 For I want you to know how greatly I strive for you, and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not seen my face (1:24-25, 29), 2 that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love (1:3-8), to have all the riches of assured understanding (1:9-14) and the knowledge of God’s mystery, of Christ, 3 in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (1:15-20, 26-28). 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with beguiling speech (new material). 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ (1:3-9a). 6 As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord (1:4-7), so live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith (1:5-6), just as you were taught (1:23a), abounding in thanksgiving (1:12).
B. A Series of Warnings and Antidotes Against False Teaching
1. Warning 1 and encouragement (2:4-7)
i. Paul gives his first heads-up against those who “delude…with beguiling [deceptive] speech (2:4)”.
ii. He quickly follows this warning with praise (2:5) and encouragement (2:6-7).
2. Warning 2, followed by well developed encouragement (2:8-15)
a. Paul’s second direct warning is a fuller description of the “beguiling speech” of warning 1 (2:8). “See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (8).
b. His corrective is extensive and detailed, developing the theology of 1:12-22.
i) Christology (2:9-10), summarizing 1:15-20.
ii) Analogies (2:11-15) of 1) showing how the Colossians were made fit to enter the kingdom (see 1:12 and 22) and 2) how God transferred them from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (see 1:13-14).
- spiritual circumcision of Christ (2:11)
- burial in baptism and spiritual resurrection(2:12)
- spiritually resurrection from the dead (2:13a)
- forgiveness of sin (2:13b)
- legal justification (2:14)
- Christ’s disarming and triumphing over the spiritual enemies, the “principalities and powers” (2:15)
3. Warning 3 (2:16-17) specifies what the “philosophy,” “empty deceit,” and “human tradition” of Warning 2 are. It also gives the antidote. The warning is against making food, drink, and religious holidays items of concern to the faith (2:16). The antidote is Christ, who is the “real deal,” the substance, as opposed to shadow (2:17).
4. Warning 4 (2:18-19a) is against “self-abasement,” “worship of angels,” and “visions.” The antidote again is to cling to Christ the Head of the church. He will nourish and grow his body with the blessing of God.
5. Paul’s Summary of his statements of warning (2:20-23). Everything in Warnings 3-4 refers back to the “elemental spirits of the universe,” mentioned in 2:8. Paul states this explicitly in verse 20. In the remaining verses of this passage he explains what exactly is wrong with these deceptive practices.
a. They are of the world, as opposed to the kingdom (2:20).
b. They belong to the dead way of life the Colossians left behind (2:22).
c. They deceive, because although they have an appearance of wisdom, dead flesh cannot change dead flesh. Implied is that the Colossians need the Spirit of Christ “in checking the indulgence of the flesh” (2:23).
C. True Teaching on Kingdom Living
The crux of Paul’s teaching is that Jesus Christ died, was buried, is resurrected, and reigns as Sovereign of the Universe, according to the will and blessing of God the Father. As regards the Colossians, they were raised with him and are in him “with Christ in God (σὺν τῷ Χριστῷ ἐν τῷ θεῷ)” (9). As to how they should behave, they should behave in ways that are true to Christ and true to their position in him. He states this as his opening to this section. Rhetorically, these verses function as a grand conclusion to everything he’s said so far and a grand introduction to what remains.
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4 RSV)
1. Put these behaviors (internal and external) to death (3:5-9a) and why (3:9b-11).
2. Put on these behaviors and why (3:12-17).
3. Precepts to govern specific familial and household relationships (3:18-4:1).
4. Pray (4:2-4).
5. Conduct toward outsiders (those not within the church, i.e., nonbelievers (4:5-6).
IV. Paul’s Team (4:7-14)
In this section near the end of Paul’s letter, he says a few words about certain men who work with him in the faith. Some of what he says concerns greetings; some concerns future visits from a number of them.
V. Final Instructions (4:15-17) and Sign-off (4:18)
1. Paul’s final instructions concern:
a. specific greetings from himself to a Christian woman named Nympha (4:15)
b. trading letters with the church in Laodicea (4:16)
c. an admonition to Archippus (4:17)
2. Paul signs off (4:18).
a. He tells them that he is writing this very last portion himself, in his own handwriting, without the help of someone doing the writing for him (amanuensis), or what we might call a secretary.
b. He asks that the Colossians would remember that he is in prison.
c. He closes his letter with the words, “Grace be with you.”
Some Personal Words and Conclusion
During the first portion of my Christian walk, I admit that I was not fond of Paul. I thought him cold and arrogant. I was a child in Christ, and I certainly didn’t know Paul. I think part of my difficulty involves the style in which the New Testament letters themselves are written. In my own writing of emails and text messages, I use exclamation points all over the place. As a female, I include words that describe feelings. Paul wrote two thousand years ago in the style that was common to his day. The style of letter writing in Paul’s milieu was much more formal than our style today. It was also rhetorical, in the sense of educated speech. Additionally, the letters are written in a foreign language–Koine Greek. Our English Bibles are translations which have come to us filtered through centuries and centuries of church culture.
Today’s Bible reader has many recent versions which attempt to transfer Scripture into our own vernacular. Some of these are: The New Living Translation, The Passion Bible, The Bible in Basic English, The New International Version, the New English Translation, and a number of others. It is good to consult many different versions of Scripture to help gain an understanding of what is being said. In my experience I find that Scripture is often difficult to understand simply because the language itself, even though I am reading a Bible in English, is difficult to follow. Let’s face it–few of us talk and speak like Paul in Colossians.
It is for this reason, because of its level of difficulty for me, that I have spent so much of my personal time these last few weeks working on this mini Bible study of Colossians. I feel that after so many years of fearful animosity towards this particular letter, I have finally been able (by God’s grace) to understand what Paul has written here. And let me tell you, it is AMAZING!!!!! If only in my day to day living I could fully grasp the enormity of the full implications of my life in Christ! This includes an appreciation of who he is–my words are too limited to describe him–but Paul did a fantastic job in Colossians 1:15-20. But I sense that even with all the superlative phrases Paul uses (10), even those fall short of the infinite greatness of who this Person is. And, according to Paul, I am IN him, with him IN God!!!!! I am someone who needs Paul’s prayer, that I “may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him,…” and to fully understand on a practical, daily living level, just what is my “inheritance of the saints in light.” If I got all that, I think it would make a difference.
In a total non sequitur, Bilbo Baggins and Frodo were tiny people, little people, Hobbits, who did huge things. I believe that compared to God, all Christians are like this. I know I certainly am. But Christ is our mediator. He is God–i.e., enormously huge in power, splendor, and hundreds of other words all heaped up–AND, he is one of us, a tiny human being. Unlike myself, Christ is the perfect image bearer of God, unmarred by sin. God sent Christ to explain himself and his requirements to us. And to bring us back to himself. Christ is the open door to God. That is what Paul is saying. And the point of this paragraph is that through Christ God has poured an enormous quantity of rich treasure into tiny vessels. The treasure is so big that we have to work hard at understanding it. It’s beyond our experience.
Spending many hours in Paul’s letter to the Colossians has helped me understand Paul better, the Lord better, and myself in Christ better. I’ve grappled with the structure of Colossians many times now, and this time around, I was blessed by reading it along with a group of wonderful Christian women (thank-you, Gaye Austin! and everyone). And so I hope what I’ve shared in my outlined presentation above can help someone else who is reading Colossians. “Grace be with you!” –Christina
1 Readers should be aware that the original text in Greek does not contain either chapters or verses. These divisions were imposed by later editors of the English versions to allow for easier reference and reading.
2 My personal journey here: It’s taken years for me to get here. I was a young Christian when I first studied Colossians in a ladies’ Bible study led by our pastor’s wife. This group never discussed; we listened. In that first pass through, Colossians appeared to me cold and hard, impenetrable, like a statue of chiseled marble not interested in conversation. I definitely missed the good news in that first round. The second pass through Colossians was with a ladies’ Bible study I taught. I would say I failed–I never really understood the structure nor Paul’s message. I did pick out a wonderful passage for memory, 1:13-14. My third pass through is happening right now. I’m studying with a very fine group of women on Zoom, led by Gaye Austin, who heads the Facebook page of Bible.org. She is a prolific writer herself, and she enjoys and encourages discussion. What I’m presenting in this blog is what I have garnered on my own at home, as a product of reading through the entire letter in one sitting, many times over. Each time I read, I see something new. The outline I’m presenting is my own; it’s simple, and it works for me. Oh yes, I nearly forgot, I need to add that I now like Paul, the letter, and God himself–Father, Son, Spirit, as presented in it.
3 See the article, “Son of His Love: Colossians 1:13″, available on this site by following the given link, for an exposition of the word choice, “Son of his love.”
4 Many but not all translations place the “hope” as being the cause of both the faith and love. However, Paul tends to write linearly, stringing his phrases together one after another. Therefore, it is not clear beyond a shadow of doubt whether the hope stimulated both the faith and love, or just the love, which the phrase, “on account of the hope,” directly follows. Exploring this further would go beyond the scope of this article. The solid point, however, is that knowledge of an eternal inheritance safely being stored up by God does produce the fruit of love in the lives of believers.
5 Paul uses the names “Lord” and “God” almost interchangeably in verse 10.
6 There is at least one whole sermon, or lesson, in the brief treatment of the Father followed without transition by the extensive treatment of the Son which follows.
7 In my professional work as a public school teacher of under-privileged children, I definitely needed and drew upon God’s energizing “power” and strength to perform my task. I also wanted to bring the children in my care to maturity when I presented them to their next year’s teacher.
8 This is a difficult verse, one for which comparison of many translations would be useful. By consulting a variety of translations, the reader may gain a better sense of Paul’s intended meaning.
9 The Christian reader should stop and meditate upon this phrase, “with Christ in God.” Paul wanted his readers to realize how great are the riches of the glory of this mystery. There is no stronger position anywhere in the universe than “with Christ in God.” Do you think God will take care of you? Is there need to look anywhere else but Christ?
10 Some believe that Paul in 1:15-20 was quoting a common creed of his day. No matter, it was Christian faith that wrote these words.